President Benigno Aquino III arrives at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. Aquino is scheduled to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Monday and Tuesday. AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit]

VIENTIANE, LAOS, NOVEMBER 5, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Leila B. Salaverria - President Benigno Aquino III arrived at Wattay International Airport in Laos at 2:45 p.m. (3:45 p.m. Manila time) for the 9th Asia Europe Meeting at the head of a 60-member delegation to pitch the Philippines as an investment hub at the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem). 

This will be Mr. Aquino’s first ever attendance at the interregional forum created in 1996 for Europe and Asia to engage one another at the highest levels of government to discuss international issues and regional cooperation.

The two-day meeting, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, brings together the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the European Union, the European Commission and the Asean Plus Three dialogue partners.

This is the only forum where heads of state from Europe and Asia engage one another, and Mr. Aquino’s attendance signals the Philippines’ renewed focus on Europe as an economic and political partner, foreign affairs officials said.

Discourse among heads

He will be exchanging views with other heads of government on the euro zone crisis, trade and investment, energy and food security, disaster management, counter-terrorism, migration and regional issues, the officials said.

Malacañang said the President, who will be away for two days, will highlight the country’s gains in good governance and economic growth, call for an enhanced Asia-Europe economic partnership, and underscore the need for upholding the rights of migrant workers.

Bilateral talks

Mr. Aquino will be holding meetings with leaders from Europe and Asia on the sidelines of the summit, the Palace said.

“The President will convey the developments in the country to encourage other countries to seriously take another look at the Philippines, and consider putting their investments here,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over government radio.

Mr. Aquino is meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the Philippine maritime training and certification system, and its compliance with air safety standards.

He will also sit down for bilateral talks with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to tackle the human rights compensation bill, cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management, and economic cooperation.

Other meetings have been lined up with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on defense and finance, and with Norwegian Prime Minister Jen Stoltenberg on Norway’s role in the peace talks with communist rebels, and maritime and labor cooperation.

Mr. Aquino will also hold a dialogue with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on cooperation in defense and higher education.

But topping his itinerary is a meeting with the members of the relatively small Filipino community shortly after his arrival, said Valte. He will be having dinner with about 300 members of the Filipino community on Sunday night.

Members of delegation

Joining the President on the trip are Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Ambassador to Laos Maria Lumen B. Isleta, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, outgoing Energy Secretary and incoming Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.

Almendras, who assumes his new position as secretary to the Cabinet on Sunday, is scheduled to take his oath of office before the President’s 1 p.m. departure for Vientiane, the Laotian capital.

Almendras’ replacement as energy secretary, Leyte Gov. Jericho Petilla, will also take his oath at the same time at the departure area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 2, according to the President’s schedule provided by Coloma’s office.

Almendras, the President’s close friend, is the first Cabinet secretary in the Aquino administration. It is a Cabinet-level position, and was last held by Ricardo Saludo during the Arroyo administration. With a report from Leila Salaverria

Asia-Europe meet: Aquino to see Filipinos in Laos By Leila B. Salaverria Philippine Daily Inquirer 5:49 am | Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—A meeting with the Filipino community is at the top of President Aquino’s schedule when he flies to Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) on Sunday for the 9th Asia Europe Meeting (Asem).

Three hundred representatives from the relatively small Filipino community in Lao PDR, or Laos, will welcome Mr. Aquino when he arrives in the country’s capital, Vientiane.

As of December 2011, there were 556 Filipinos in Laos and most of them work as consultants to United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), engineers in mining and hydropower projects, English teachers, accountants, and office workers.

The Filipinos said they were eager to meet with the President, but Roselie Mabunga, head teacher at the Panyathip International School, said she wished the President would visit Laos more often to tell them they had not been left alone, according to a Malacañang statement.

Leodia Pagunsan, director of the Sangdara International Bilingual School, likened the meeting with the President to a child receiving a visit from a father after a long absence.

“We will be so happy to meet him because he is the father of our nation,” Pagunsan said.

Economic cooperation

Businessman Ashmad Hiya, who owns a restaurant and guesthouse called “Bahay Pinoy,” said he was looking forward to meeting Mr. Aquino and hoped the President would continue to run the government well.

At the Asem, to be held from November 5 to 6, Mr. Aquino will call for upholding migrant workers’ rights amid economic hardships, push for improved partnership between Asia and Europe to boost the regions’ economic standing, and seek stronger support for the creation of Bangsamoro, a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, to end an insurgency that has killed more than 150,000 people in southern Philippines.

Mr. Aquino’s attendance at the Asem is intended to boost economic and political ties with the European region and to explore new partnerships and areas of cooperation. A new Philippine initiative on disaster management is expected to be announced.

On the sidelines of the Asem, the President will hold bilateral talks with six European leaders to tackle a variety of issues, including human rights, disaster risk reduction, and labor and economic concerns, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Buensuceso said in a statement.

First Asem

This is the first time that the President is attending the Asem. He canceled his trip to the last Asem in 2010, held in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr. Aquino will hold talks with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on the Philippines’ progress in dealing with the European Union’s (EU) concerns involving Philippine maritime training and certification system as well as compliance with air safety standards.

He is also scheduled to meet with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to discuss the human rights compensation bill, cooperation in disaster risk reduction and management, and economic cooperation.

Another meeting has been scheduled with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to tackle defense and finance, while the meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jen Stoltenberg will focus on Norway’s role in the Philippine peace processes and on boosting bilateral maritime and labor cooperation.

With Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Mr. Aquino will discuss opportunities for cooperation in defense and higher education.

Political ties

Buensuceso said political ties between Europe and the Philippines were strong. The EU, she said, is a member of the International Monitoring Team in the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), while the United Kingdom is a member of the International Contact Group for the peace process.

Norway is also facilitating the peace talks between the government and communist rebels, she said.

“The President will seize the opportunity provided by Asem to engage relevant European partners in order to firm up support for the development of the Bangsamoro,” she said.

The Philippines also intends to seek new investment from Russia, Finland and Spain.

Europe is the Philippines’ third largest trade partner after North America and Asia. Trade with Europe amounted to $13 billion in 2011, while investment from the EU was P33.3 billion.

Mr. Aquino is also scheduled to participate in the discussion on migration, where he will talk about the importance of upholding migrant workers’ rights amid economic hardships in host countries. There are some 746,701 Filipino workers in Europe.

OFWs’ plight tops Aquino agenda in Laos–envoy By Leila B. Salaverria Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:31 am | Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic—The plight and protection of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will figure prominently in President Aquino’s talks with European leaders during the 9th Asia Europe Meeting Summit (Asem) here, according to Philippine Ambassador Lumen Isleta.

Isleta said that among the many topics to be taken up in the biennial gathering of Asian and European leaders, President Aquino will give priority to issues related to migration.

Europe is host to many Filipino workers. The majority of the merchant marine fleet of Norway, for instance, is manned by Filipino seafarers.

“In the talks of the President with Europe as a whole, migration will figure quite prominently in the topics he will raise,” Isleta said.

Energy security is another matter the President intends to highlight, she said. The Asem Summit is expected to tackle various issues, including the euro zone crisis, climate change, sustainable development, and economic and financial setbacks.

Mr. Aquino is also expected to seek support for the Bangsamoro, the autonomous region to be formed in accordance with the recently signed peace agreement with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

It is not certain if the territorial disputes in the South China Sea would be on the agenda.

The President’s focus on migration comes on the heels of a recent analysis of the International Labor Organization (ILO) showing that domestic workers in Europe, including Filipinos, continued to be prone to abuse.

According to the ILO, the existence of laws for domestic workers has not been enough to protect them, with weak compliance and gaps in legislation.

Though there are labor inspectors, few domestic workers are eager to report or denounce their employers, it said.

Wrong perception

It further said that the failure to follow the laws was related to the perception of some people that domestic work was not a real form of employment. Many of the domestic workers in Europe are in the informal economy, and include illegal migrants.

In Vientiane, President Aquino will meet with the Filipino community.

Filipinos in Lao PDR are in professional, skilled and office jobs rather than domestic work, and are valued in the community, according to Isleta.

Majority of the 556-member Filipino community work as hotel staff, English teachers, consultants for United Nations agencies and international nongovernment organizations, engineers in mining and hydropower projects, accountants, and office and garment factories.

“The common sentiments among their employers are that they are hardworking, honest, friendly, and easy to work with,” Isleta said.

The President is attending the Asem Summit on Nov. 5 to 6.

The Philippines is a founding member of Asem.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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